Making culture relevant in technical translation: The case of bilingual instructions

massimo verzella


Technical documents conceived to be used by individuals from different backgrounds should also be the product of cycles of negotiations between authors and audiences. Significantly, the central tenet of technical communication is user-analysis. Participatory design revolves around an invitational rhetoric that involves users at all stages of product or content development. In this redefined scene of shared ‘authorship,’ translators can be seen as beta users who are also producers of meaning. Translators can help development teams understand what type of cultural differences are relevant for user experience design, how much language matters in design, and what adjustments are necessary to tailor digital products to specific locales.

Within the methodological framework of Descriptive Translation Studies, the case study illustrated in this paper provides an analysis of the translation shifts that occur in pairs of instructions in which the source text is in English and the target text in Italian. My research shows that translators make culture relevant by resorting to an ample gamut of translation shifts that reflect rhetorical preference. The study of how and why translators switch from formal to functional equivalence supports the idea that we can obtain quality localization when authors and translators negotiate content in a cyclical, iterative way. Good UX is contextual: translators should be invited to take part in the development process, rather than hired a posteriori to localize products that they do not understand.


Translation; international professional communication; user experience; culture; instructions

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